With older people facing as high a risk of car crashes as teens, some states and provinces now test older drivers with the aim of getting the riskiest motorists off the road.
But the tests they use are inadequate, says cognitive psychologist Normand Teasdale of Université Laval in Québec. Some governments only test vision; others test cognition, too. In some cases, on-the-road tests also are required.
But none of these tests is enough—they lack accuracy, sensitivity and specificity. To drive effectively, you not only have to be able to see, hear, and think about what’s going on—you also have to be able to turn this sensory input into the right action, like stepping on the brake when you see a red light ahead of you (instead of stepping on the gas by mistake.)
Older drivers could benefit from training programs that put them behind the wheel—in a driving simulator, with an observer who helps them develop their skills.
Teasdale and his colleagues, Pierre-Luc Gamache, Carol Hudon, and Martin Simoneau, think a better approach is to help older adults improve their skills through the use of proper training using a driving simulator and appropriate feedback. In a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, they found that coaching helps older drivers improve. For example, in one experiment, older adults were tested on the road, then coached in a driving simulator. The researchers walked them through their errors and guiding them on the proper skills. Then the drivers were tested again on the road, without coaching, and showed improved abilities.
Teasdale and his colleagues hope that coaches and driving simulators can be made available to more older drivers who are worried about their safety on the road. These methods may help keep older drivers behind the wheel longer without compromising road safety.